Even those of us who try to avoid politics at all costs cannot fail to notice that Britain’s exit from the EU looms ever closer, and that The British Government has been talking more about the preparations it is making for Brexit. Food businesses across the UK may not want to think about the issue but they should, and they must be asking are we ready, or are we not?
But before looking at what individual food and drink businesses are doing, it is reasonable to ask if the government itself is ready for Brexit.
The government’s first priority is to minimize uncertainty by ensuring that there are no gaps in legislation and avoid a cliff edge when we leave the EU in March 2019. The aim of the EU Withdrawal Bill is precisely that: to convert and preserve EU legislation that is directly ¬applicable into domestic law. This process is already facing delays, with the bill being up for consideration again by MPs.
Unlike some sectors which are relatively unaffected, the food and drink industry has been regulated by Brussels for decades, meaning there is a vast amount of EU legislation that needs to be transferred into UK law. Defra, the government department responsible for food and drink law, is also responsible for farming and the environment; two other areas where the EU has historically written the laws and which will require much work to transfer over.
Arguably, Defra has the biggest job in Whitehall but it has also suffered staff reductions of around a third since 2010. Does it have the manpower to manage Brexit well for the food, farming and environment sectors? Recent announcements that Defra is hiring to support its EU exit-related work give us a good indication of what the answer to this question may be.
If the government does not seem ready, how ready is your business?
Many businesses are passive at this stage, thinking that they can’t influence the Brexit process – and to some extent, given the complicated politics of ongoing negotiations, that’s fair enough. But it doesn’t mean that companies should do nothing; they should be assessing the potential impacts of Brexit on their business and planning for various scenarios. It is of paramount importance for businesses in the food and drink sectors to follow changes, monitor the potential impact of a ‘no deal’ scenario and how that may affect the business, the supply chain and trading with EU member states.
Brexit should not only be viewed as a series of threats, but opportunities too. Businesses should identify laws that can be amended in the future that would enable greater market access, whilst protecting the consumer. There are already opportunities to make your voice heard; does your local MP know what impact ‘no deal’ will have on your firm and local employment? Are you working through your trade association to talk to ministers and officials in the relevant sector, and responding to government consultations?
If not, you may want to start…
You can learn more about how Brexit will affect the food sector, as well as many other industries, at The Whitehouse Consultancy’s dedicated Brexit website: www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk/project_brexit